Complete Guide to Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Degrees

If you want to have a positive impact in your community, earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is a great step. While many BSW graduates go on to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW), the BSW alone can lead to job opportunities in clinical social work, community engagement, non-profit work, advocacy, and organizing. These fields allow you to make a substantial impact in your community by helping underserved and historically under resourced populations.

This guide will provide you with information about BSW degrees, including the time it takes to earn the degree, career opportunities, and the value of these programs.

What Is a BSW Degree?

A BSW degree prepares you for a career in social work or related fields, or to continue your education. While most BSW graduates go on to earn an MSW, the skills you gain in your bachelor’s program can lead to entry-level positions in the field.

A BSW, also known as a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW) or a Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW), provides a foundation in the skills and knowledge necessary to practice social work or work in fields such as social services, social welfare, or other related careers.

Here are a few common objectives achieved through a bachelor’s in social work degree:

  • Gain a strong foundation in the principles and code of ethics of the social work profession.
  • Develop the skills for successful social work practice, such as case management and client advocacy.
  • Understand and think critically about the systems and structures that make up the social services and social welfare system.
  • Develop a critical awareness of social justice issues and social policies and how they affect communities.
  • Recognize the role of a social worker (or related professional) in advocacy and policy engagement.
  • Develop strong research skills related to social work.
  • Gain knowledge and skills in counseling and psychology as they relate to the social work profession.
  • Develop confidence and empathy to practice social work successfully and ethically.

Why Earn a BSW Degree?

Earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is a pivotal step for those aspiring to make a difference in the field of social work. This section delves into the key reasons why pursuing a BSW degree is beneficial for students interested in this rewarding career path.

  • Foundation for a Career in Social Work: The BSW degree provides comprehensive training in the principles and practices of social work. It lays a solid foundation for a career dedicated to helping individuals, families, and communities.
  • Diverse Career Opportunities: Graduates with a BSW can pursue various roles in social work, including case management, community outreach, and advocacy. This degree opens doors to positions in government agencies, non-profits, schools, and healthcare settings.
  • Preparation for Advanced Studies: A BSW is often a prerequisite for advanced degrees in social work, such as a Master of Social Work (MSW). For those seeking to specialize or hold clinical roles, a BSW offers the essential groundwork.
  • Hands-On Experience: BSW programs typically include field education, providing students with practical experience in social work settings. This hands-on approach is invaluable for understanding the realities of the profession and applying classroom learning to real-world scenarios.
  • Development of Key Skills: The BSW curriculum focuses on developing critical skills such as communication, problem-solving, and ethical decision-making. These skills are essential for effective practice in social work.
  • Understanding of Social Justice and Advocacy: The program emphasizes social justice, human rights, and advocacy, equipping students to become agents of change in addressing societal challenges.
  • Eligibility for Licensure: In many jurisdictions, a BSW is the minimum educational requirement for certain social work licensure. This credential is crucial for those wishing to practice in regulated social work roles.
  • Networking and Professional Development: Students have opportunities to connect with professionals in the field, gain mentors, and become involved in professional organizations, enriching their learning experience and professional growth.

A BSW degree is more than an academic achievement; it’s a commitment to a profession that strives to improve lives and strengthen communities. For those passionate about social work, a BSW is the first step in a fulfilling career journey.

What You Can Do With a BSW Degree

With a BSW degree, you have a variety of career options. While some paths may require a master’s degree, the skills and knowledge you gain through your bachelor’s degree can be applied to many jobs.

Here are a few careers your BSW degree might prepare you for:

Child and Family Social Worker: These social workers connect families to community resources and social services. They also ensure the safety of children in home environments.

Community Health Worker: Community health workers bring public health education and awareness to the community through outreach, advocacy, and counseling.

Criminal Justice Case Manager: Case managers help individuals re-enter society after incarceration. They assist with housing, social connections, and employment.

Discharge Planner: Discharge planners create plans to ensure patients’ long-term health needs are met as they leave hospitals or clinics.

Family Support Worker: Family support workers develop relationships with families to help them navigate difficult situations and provide assistance with social services and paperwork.

Mental Health Case Manager: Case managers work with mental health care teams to oversee patient care and resolve crises.

School Social Worker: School social workers support students in navigating behavioral challenges, mental health concerns, and academic issues.

Social and Community Service Manager: These managers serve as liaisons between the community and agencies, coordinating and supervising programs and services.

Social Work Licensure After Your BSW Degree

Social work licenses are granted at the state level, and each state has its own requirements for licensure. Some states offer licenses to BSW graduates who meet certain criteria, such as passing the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam, completing supervised experience, and paying an application fee. However, there may be limitations on the services a BSW-level licensed social worker can offer, such as not being able to practice independently in a clinical setting.

In certain states, such as California, a master’s degree is required for social work licensure. In these states, earning a BSW degree will not immediately lead to licensure as a social worker, but it can still be valuable for other employment opportunities in support or administrative roles.

Salary and Career Outlook with a BSW Degree

The median annual pay for social workers in 2022 was $55,350, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment in the industry is expected to grow by 7% between 2022 and 2032, according to the BLS. However, these figures cover social workers with varying levels of experience and education.

It’s important to note that not all BSW degree holders work specifically as social workers. Here are a few related careers and their respective salaries and projected growth rates:

Career2022 Median SalaryProjected Growth, 2019-29
Community Health Workers$46,19014%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists$59,8603%
Social and Community Service Managers$74,2409%
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors$49,71018%

All information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Long Does It Take to Get a BSW Degree?

A Bachelor of Social Work degree typically takes four years of full-time schooling. During this time, you will complete general education courses required by your college or university. The specific coursework required to graduate with a BSW will be outlined by the social work program you choose.

If you choose to attend a community college first, you can complete general education credits or earn an associate degree in social work or a related field. You can typically transfer up to 60 credit hours to a four-year institution.

It’s important to communicate with your chosen four-year school to verify that your credits will transfer before enrolling. Once you’ve completed your general education credits, a BSW degree completion program will focus specifically on social work coursework.

Many schools offer accelerated BSW to MSW programs, which allow students to complete both degrees in a shorter amount of time compared to pursuing them separately. These programs, often called “4+1 programs,” typically take five years to complete and require a high undergraduate GPA.

Even if you choose not to pursue a BSW and MSW together, having a BSW degree can often give you advanced standing in MSW programs. This means you’ll need to complete fewer credit hours to fulfill the requirements of your MSW, potentially shortening a two-year program to one year.

Admissions Requirements for BSW Programs

Admissions requirements for colleges and universities generally include a high school diploma or GED, transcripts, a minimum GPA, test scores (SAT, ACT, or GRE), a completed application, and a statement of purpose or personal essay. Some social work programs may have additional requirements, such as a high GPA in prerequisite coursework and recommendation letters.

After being accepted into an undergraduate program, you may need to apply to the social work program separately. This process will vary by school, but typically requires a high GPA, completion of prerequisite courses, and the submission of an application, statement of goals, and recommendations.

BSW Coursework

Earning a BSW typically requires completing around 120-128 credits, including general education and social work courses.

Core social work courses may include:

  • Introduction to Social Work
  • Foundations in Human Behavior
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment
  • Research Methods
  • Social Welfare Policy and Services

While core coursework is similar across most schools, the specific courses offered can vary. Some programs may offer classes such as Institutional Racism, Military Social Work, or Service Learning in the Social Work Profession.

Specialty Concentrations

Some BSW programs offer opportunities to specialize in areas such as child and family studies, child life or child welfare, or LGBTQ+ studies. It’s also possible to pursue a minor or second bachelor’s degree to focus on a specific area of interest.

Fieldwork in BSW Degree Programs

Almost all BSW programs require the completion of fieldwork, which often takes the form of a practicum or internship. Fieldwork provides hands-on experience in a variety of settings, including clinics, community-based organizations, and government agencies. Students may seek out their own fieldwork opportunities or receive assistance from the school.

Online vs. Campus-Based Programs

Choosing between an online and a campus-based Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program is a significant decision for students. Each mode of learning offers unique benefits tailored to different learning styles and life circumstances. Understanding these benefits can help students make an informed choice that aligns with their personal and professional goals.

Benefits of Campus-Based BSW Degree Programs

  • Interactive Learning Environment: Campus-based programs offer a traditional classroom setting that fosters face-to-face interaction with peers and instructors, enhancing the learning experience.
  • Hands-On Experience: Many campus programs provide easy access to hands-on training opportunities, such as internships and field placements, within the local community.
  • Networking Opportunities: Being on campus allows students to build a network with fellow students, faculty, and visiting professionals, which can be invaluable for future career opportunities.
  • Access to Campus Resources: Students can take advantage of a range of resources such as libraries, study groups, counseling, and career services.
  • Structured Routine: A campus-based program offers a more structured educational routine, which can be beneficial for students who thrive in a more organized environment.

Benefits of Online BSW Degree Programs

  • Flexibility and Convenience: Online programs offer flexibility for students to balance their studies with personal and professional commitments, making it ideal for those who need to manage their time more independently.
  • Broader Access to Programs: Students can enroll in programs regardless of their geographic location, providing access to a wider range of schools and specializations.
  • Technology-Integrated Learning: Online programs often incorporate innovative learning technologies, which can enhance digital communication and organizational skills.
  • Self-Paced Learning: Many online BSW programs allow students to learn at their own pace, which is beneficial for those who may need more time to absorb material or who want to accelerate their studies.
  • Reduced Costs: Online programs can reduce expenses related to commuting, housing, and other campus-related costs.

Both online and campus-based BSW programs have distinct advantages. Prospective students should consider their learning preferences, lifestyle, career goals, and the specific features of each program before making a decision.

Field Experience in Online and On-Ground Programs

Field experience is a crucial component of any Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program, whether online or on-ground. This hands-on training is essential for applying classroom knowledge to real-world social work settings. Here’s how field experience is typically approached in both types of programs.

Online BSW Programs: Field Experience

  • Local Placements: Online programs often allow students to complete their field experience in their local community. This means students can apply their learning in familiar environments, possibly even leading to future employment opportunities.
  • Flexibility: Students in online programs might have more flexibility in choosing their field placement times, making it easier to balance other commitments.
  • Diverse Opportunities: Online programs can offer a broad range of placement options, as they are not limited to the partnerships and opportunities available near a physical campus.
  • Coordination and Support: Most online programs provide a field coordinator or advisor who assists students in securing appropriate placements and navigating any challenges.

On-Ground BSW Programs: Field Experience

  • Campus-Community Partnerships: On-ground programs often have established relationships with local agencies and organizations, providing students with a variety of field placement options.
  • Direct Support and Supervision: On-campus students may benefit from more immediate access to faculty and peer support regarding their field experience.
  • Integrated Learning Experience: Field placements are typically closely integrated with on-ground coursework, allowing for a seamless application of theory to practice.
  • Immediate Feedback: On-ground programs offer the advantage of immediate, in-person feedback from professors and field supervisors, which can be critical for professional growth.

Regardless of the delivery method, BSW programs prioritize providing meaningful and relevant field experiences that prepare students for the realities of social work practice. Students in both online and on-ground programs are required to meet the same standards of field education, ensuring they are equally prepared for professional practice upon graduation.

Degrees Related to the BSW

In addition to a BSW, there are related degrees that can lead to social work jobs or MSW programs:

Psychology: A degree in psychology provides a strong foundation in mental health, which is relevant to social work.

Sociology: Sociology offers a macro-level understanding of societal structures and their impact on individuals, which can be beneficial for social workers.

Public Health: Public health combines health-related knowledge with the interconnections of social work.

Criminal Justice: Criminal justice provides an understanding of the criminal justice system, which is relevant to social work roles in prevention and re-entry programs.

Political Science: Political science gives social workers insights into political systems and how they relate to social welfare and services.


Is a Social Work Degree Worth It?

A BSW degree can be a valuable step towards a rewarding career. In a survey, 92% of BSW graduates said they would recommend the degree to others. Some advantages of earning a BSW degree include:

Potential for initial social work licensure: With a BSW degree, you may be eligible for initial social work licensure, allowing you to begin your career soon after graduation. Keep in mind that licensure requirements vary by state.

Easier entry into MSW programs: Having a BSW degree gives you an advantage in applying to MSW programs. You’ll likely have a strong foundation and may be able to complete the program in less time compared to students without a BSW.

Gateway to related careers: Even if you choose not to pursue social work directly, a BSW degree can lead to careers in counseling, alternative-path teaching, and other fields where your social work background can positively impact communities.

How to Become a Social Worker

Those interested in how to become a social worker, and how to become an LCSW,  should familiarize themselves with the basic steps. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker typically takes about six to nine years. The process involves obtaining a BSW degree, gaining practical experience, pursuing an MSW degree, obtaining licensure, and fulfilling continuing education requirements. The specific steps may vary depending on the state.

Here is a general overview of the steps to become a social worker:

  1. Earn a BSW Degree: The first step is obtaining a Bachelor of Social Work from an accredited university. This degree provides a comprehensive foundation in social work principles and practices, including fieldwork or internships.
  2. Begin a Career in Social Work: With a BSW, graduates can start their careers in various roles within the social work field. Positions often include case management, community outreach, and support roles in different settings like social service agencies, schools, and non-profit organizations.
  3. Pursue an MSW Degree (Optional): While a BSW qualifies individuals for many positions in social work, some may choose to pursue an MSW for advanced practice opportunities, especially in clinical settings. An MSW is required for those aiming to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
  4. Complete Field Placements or Internships (If Pursuing MSW): MSW programs include supervised field placements or internships, which are essential for developing advanced clinical social work skills.
  5. Pass the ASWB Clinical Exam (If Pursuing LCSW): After completing an MSW, individuals aiming to become LCSWs must pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) clinical-level exam.
  6. Obtain State Licensure (If Pursuing LCSW): LCSW licensure requires passing the ASWB exam and often additional hours of supervised clinical experience, which vary by state.
  7. Renew Licensure and Fulfill Continuing Education (If LCSW): Licensed Clinical Social Workers must renew their license as required, typically every two years, which involves completing continuing education.

In summary, a BSW degree opens up a range of career opportunities in social work, and it’s a valid and rewarding option for many. The choice to pursue further education with an MSW depends on individual career goals, especially for those seeking advanced clinical roles or specialized areas of practice in social work.

BSW vs. Bachelor’s in Counseling

Choosing between a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and a Bachelor’s degree in Counseling involves understanding the distinct focus, curriculum, and career paths each offers. While both degrees prepare students for impactful careers in helping professions, they differ in their approach, areas of specialization, and the nature of the work involved. This section aims to delineate these differences, aiding students in making an informed decision that aligns with their career aspirations and interests.

  • Focus and Approach:
    • BSW: Emphasizes a holistic approach to social work, focusing on social justice, advocacy, and community engagement. It prepares students to address a wide range of social issues at both individual and systemic levels.
    • Bachelor’s in Counseling: Concentrates on individual and group counseling techniques, psychological theories, and mental health treatment. This degree is more focused on direct client interaction, primarily in therapeutic settings.
  • Curriculum:
    • BSW: The curriculum typically includes subjects like social welfare policy, human behavior, case management, and community practice, along with fieldwork in social work settings.
    • Bachelor’s in Counseling: Students study counseling theories, psychological assessment, human development, and ethics in counseling, often with a requirement for supervised clinical experience.
  • Career Paths:
    • BSW Graduates: Can pursue roles in social service agencies, community organizations, schools, and healthcare settings. They may work as case managers, child welfare advocates, or community outreach coordinators.
    • Bachelor’s in Counseling Graduates: Often work in mental health centers, schools, private practice, or addiction treatment centers, primarily in roles that involve counseling and mental health support.
  • Further Education and Licensure:
    • BSW: A natural progression for BSW graduates is to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) for advanced practice, including clinical social work.
    • Bachelor’s in Counseling: Graduates may choose to pursue a master’s degree in counseling or a related field to become licensed professional counselors.

Understanding these key differences helps clarify the unique strengths and focus areas of each program. Students should consider their long-term career goals, the type of work environments they prefer, and the kind of impact they wish to make in their professional lives when choosing between a BSW and a Bachelor’s degree in Counseling.

Make a Difference with a BSW Degree

A BSW degree not only allows you to pursue your dream career but also enables you to make a positive difference in the world. By helping people overcome challenges, advocating for justice, and spreading kindness, you contribute to creating a better world. Take the first step and apply for a BSW degree to embark on this meaningful journey.

BSW Degree FAQ

  1. How much does a BSW cost?
    The cost of a BSW program varies depending on the institution, whether it’s public or private, and whether you attend in-state or out-of-state. Tuition can range from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars per year. Additional costs may include textbooks, fees, and living expenses.
  2. Is there a difference between campus-based BSW programs and online BSWs?
    The primary difference lies in the mode of delivery. Campus-based programs offer in-person classes and direct interaction, while online programs offer flexibility and convenience. Both should provide similar curriculums and field experience opportunities.
  3. Will a BSW degree make me a licensed social worker?
    A BSW degree is a step toward licensure, but additional steps are typically required. Most states require a period of supervised practice and a passing score on a licensing exam. Requirements can vary by state.
  4. Is a BSW degree right for me?
    If you’re passionate about helping individuals and communities, advocating for social justice, and working in diverse settings, a BSW could be a great fit. It’s ideal for those seeking a career in social work without necessarily pursuing a graduate degree immediately.
  5. How can I help pay for my BSW degree?
    Financial aid options include scholarships, grants, student loans, and work-study programs. Researching scholarships offered by universities, non-profit organizations, and community groups is also beneficial. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a crucial step for accessing federal aid.
  6. What can I do to help prepare for my BSW program?
    Volunteering in community service or social work settings can provide valuable experience. Additionally, taking courses in psychology, sociology, and related fields in high school or as electives in college can be helpful.
  7. Do I need a BSW to be a social worker?
    While a BSW is a common path to becoming a social worker, some positions may accept related degrees like psychology or sociology. However, a BSW provides specialized training specifically in social work.
  8. Is a BSW degree enough to get started as a social worker?
    Yes, a BSW degree can lead to entry-level positions in social work. For clinical roles or advanced positions, further education may be required.
  9. What are the typical job prospects after completing a BSW?
    BSW graduates can work in various settings like social service agencies, schools, non-profits, and healthcare facilities. Job roles include case manager, child welfare worker, and community outreach coordinator.
  10. Can I pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) after a BSW?
    Absolutely. In fact, having a BSW might allow you to complete an MSW program in a shorter time frame, as many schools offer advanced standing for BSW graduates. An MSW opens up more advanced practice and clinical roles.
Scroll to Top